The following editorial appeared in The Washington Post.
This month, the growing movement urging parents to opt their children out of standardized school testing received a well-deserved shaming from national civil rights groups. They pointed out that students who sit out tests sabotage the collection of data that is critical in gauging the progress of students who are most at risk. Good for them for calling out the anti-test advocates who have misappropriated the language of the civil rights movement to justify an effort that can only end up hurting poor children of color.
A dozen civil rights groups, including the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Council of La Raza and the National Disability Rights Network, issued a statement lambasting the push to opt-out of tests that seems to be picking up some steam in well-to-do communities. Students who refuse to take the tests required by federal law are, as The Post’s Emma Brown reported, still only a sliver of all test-takers, but the numbers are increasing, fueled by angst (unjustified, to our minds) over new tests aligned with the Common Core.
“For the civil rights community, data provide the power to advocate for greater equality under the law,” the groups said. They reminded everyone how easy and routine it had been for schools to ignore disparities between at-risk students — those of color, from low-income families and with disabilities — and their white peers until No Child Left Behind required annual tests. Annual tests are a powerful tool in forcing fairness. “Our communities had to fight for this simple right to be counted, and we are standing by it,” the groups vowed.
It’s particularly distasteful that some anti-test advocates have tried to liken these critical annual assessments to the biased tests used to suppress black voters during segregation, presenting playing hooky as somehow a noble act of civil disobedience. No doubt some systems test too often. But sitting out tests that have proven essential in lifting the achievement of at-risk students is shortsighted, if not selfish. That the opt-out movement has been given a boost by teachers unions, as was the case in New York, suggests the issue has less to do with student or civil rights than with the unions’ allergy to accountability.
School districts that experience low student test participation rates could see a loss of federal funds. We hope it doesn’t come to that and that, instead, the powerful appeal of these civil rights groups leads parents to think about the ramifications their decisions hold for other students who may be more in need of help.